Any manager who has decided to test remote working at a company is probably pretty confident in his or her leadership abilities. But be careful: The skills of a traditional manager do not always translate well in a distributed work environment.
Maintaining a fun, creative culture is an important aspect of remote leadership. The chat system of my company, Formstack, is stuffed with terrible puns, funny gifs and pop culture references.
For fun, the employees of my company decided to evaluate the remote leadership potential of our favorite fictional bosses. Could Parks and Recreation's Ron Swanson or Mad Men's Don Draper manage a distributed team?
The typical manager may be nicer than The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestly and more levelheaded than The Office's Michael Scott, but there are three skills that every remote boss needs to be effective:
1. Be (or become) a good writer.
When members of the team are working remotely, most communication takes place in writing. Remote leaders need to learn to write quickly and clearly. Doing so reduces back-and-forth with confused employees. Instead of debating a topic over more than 20 emails, hold a quick video chat to encourage active discussion.
A boss like Miranda Priestly despises when her time is disrespected. Her remote team should include an agenda for phone meetings or video calls. Just one sentence on the calendar ensures that everyone is ready when a meeting begins.
2. Get comfortable reaching out.
Loneliness can be a great threat to the health of a remote team. Michael Scott would wither away if no one sent him an an instant message or requested a video meeting. Strong remote bosses make an intentional effort to reach out to each employee.
Take that initiative, but also encourage employees to reach out. When members of my staff started to work remotely, I asked them to call me on my cell to chat about a project or set up a meeting. Everyone initially felt a little intimidated by this arrangement, but things became easier once they realized that I’m available for them and to address their needs.
Related: Building an All-Star Virtual Team
3. Learn to set clear goals.
Remote teams can be significantly more productive than in-office ones. Bosses can adjust to a different expectation about the 40-hour week. Traditional managers might be happy to see someone working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., regardless of the actual time that it takes to complete a project. In contrast, remote leaders gauge productivity with time-sensitive goals.
The freedom of remote working also brings responsibility. With measurable expectations, members of a team understand what they need to accomplish. Working in their optimum environment helps them be incredibly productive.
In a traditional office, a manager might spend too much time on a project or lose his or her focus. Bill Lumbergh is one of those bosses who might benefit from setting a goal or two instead of chasing down TPS reports all days. Successful remote leaders set and work toward clearer targets.
Learning how to be a good remote boss does not happen overnight. Writing well, connecting with your team and setting clear goals will help you be more effective.